- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer yesterday joined the chorus of politicians objecting to massive electricity-rate increases and chided Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for his behind-the-scenes approach to resolving the crisis.

“When I get my [electric] bill, I’ll jump up and down that you have secret negotiations,” Mr. Schaefer said at a meeting of the Board of Public Works, on which he serves with Mr. Ehrlich and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat.

Mr. Schaefer, a Democrat, has supported Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, since he succeeded Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whom he openly despised and publicly denigrated at the board meetings.

Yesterday, however, he referred to Mr. Ehrlich as “Glendening Junior.”

Mr. Ehrlich ignored the insult but defended his effort to respond to rate increases of 72 percent for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., 39 percent for Potomac Electric Power Co. and 35 percent for Delmarva Power, which take effect this summer.

Since the rates were announced March 7, they have become the hottest issue in this election year in which the governor and the comptroller are seeking re-election and every seat in the General Assembly is up for grabs.

Mr. Ehrlich says the increases are the result of a utility-deregulation plan approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 1999 that included rate caps that hampered competition entering Maryland’s deregulated utility market.

“You shouldn’t be surprised when a lack of competition is precisely what has occurred,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Now everyone is running around pointing fingers. And for many months we have been discussing this and putting a plan together, and you are going to see this work out in the next couple of weeks.”

Mr. Schaefer also blamed the rate increase on state Public Service Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler, a former Republican delegate whom Mr. Ehrlich appointed to run the agency in 2003.

He said Mr. Schisler was “playing footsie” with the utility industry.

“I remember him in the House of Delegates,” Mr. Schaefer said. “He was a wiseguy then. He’s even wiser now. … I’m not very well satisfied with the actions of the Public Service Commission.”

Mr. Ehrlich said Mr. Schisler was doing a “good job” and working within the legal bounds of the 1999 deregulation deal.

The commission, the state’s utility regulator, announced the increases after overseeing a competitive bidding process for wholesale electricity to be provided to Maryland residents by the utilities.

Lawmakers from both parties are scrambling to stall the rate increase before the General Assembly adjourns April 10.

The scores of proposals include plans to delay the increases until September 2007, then phase in market rates; limit rate increases to 5 percent or 20 percent a year; and to freeze rates while the commission develops a new price-mitigation plan.

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